iPhone X – One Week Later

I’ve been using an iPhone X as my phone for a week now and wanted to share my observations as well as some tips after giving it some real world use time.

TL;DR

I really like this phone. Adapting to its new gestures was less painful than I expected. Face ID works great. I’m still not sure if it is worth $300 more than an iPhone 8, but I am very happy with it.

Screen

Coming from a Plus sized phone, I still find the phone to be narrow. In hand the phone feels great, but I do notice that text appears to break earlier than I would like. Despite that it is taller, I’m not sure I’m seeing more content.

Typing isn’t bad on it, but I would like the extra room back on the keyboard. Non-Plus sized iPhone users should have no problems though as the width is the same as before.

The extra height is appreciated, especially now that Twitter is allowing for longer tweets. Being able to see more on your phone is always good. Videos are actually a little bit larger than on Plus sized phones.

A new feature on the X is that you can wake the phone by tapping on the display. I know that LG phones have had this for a while, but I’m really happy to see it on the iPhone. It is very convenient if the phone is sitting on a table and you just want to check your notifications.

I’m not sure that I’m sold on the OLED screen. For the most part it looks just fine, but I do find some bright colors (especially yellows) to be too bright. Start up the IMDB app and you’ll see what I mean. There is color distortion when the phone is viewed at an angle which is endemic to all OLED displays.

I do have to say that that total screen does make other iPhones look old. When I go back to using the iPhone 6 I use for work the square corners stand out.

Apps need to be updated to take advantage of the full screen display. Those that are not updated still work but have black bars above and below. They are fully functional and act as they would on an iPhone 8. Many apps mainstream apps have already been updated (which is great) but many have not. Apps that are not updated do stand out. Several of the Google apps (GMail, Inbox, Calendar, News) are in need some attention.

The ‘Notch’

The area on the top of the phone where speaker and sensors live (aka “the notch”) the takes a chunk out of the top of the screen. It take a little getting used to as it stands out.

Information on the status bar is moved around or removed. For example, while there is a battery usage indicator on the “right ear”, if you want to see the actual percentage you have to go to Activity Center as there isn’t enough room otherwise.

One nice thing they did with the new “ears” is that the indicators that displayed below the status bar (green for phone calls and blue for hotspot) are replaced by changing the background color of the time in the left ear. This is really nice as the indicators are now up in the status bar and don’t take up part of the app’s space.

The goofiness of the notch becomes less noticeable over time as you learn to block it out. It is very noticeable in landscape however.

New Gestures

I was worried that the new gestures required by the removal of the home button would be difficult to get used to after using an iPhone for 10 years. To be honest, the swipe up for home quickly became normal and I caught myself trying that gesture on other iPhones. The single swipe up to unlock the phone (along with Face ID authentication) works really well.

I’m using an Apple leather case which does not cover the bottom of the phone at all so there is nothing to interfere with the gesture. I’m not sure if this becomes an issue with other cases, especially bulkier ones like OtterBox.

The gesture for the task switcher is to drag up to the center of the phone, but there is a shortcut for this. Dragging up a little and then to the right or left will also activate the task switcher.

Swiping left or right on the home indicator bar will switch apps. This is very handy when you’re going back and forth between two apps such as Safari and Notes.

Access to activity center by swiping down from the upper right is still awkward. Apple needs to do something about that going forward.

I was happy to find that the “notch” area is live in that you can tap on it to scroll to the top of a view or drag down on it to open the notifications screen. You don’t have to reach to the right “ear” for these things.

I don’t use “reachability” (the ability to scroll the top of screen down so that you can reach the top of the screen more easily) but that is available with a swipe down from the home indicator bar. This is turned off by default, but available from Settings if you want.

Battery

Battery life has been much better than I expected. I wasn’t making it through a whole day on a charge at first, but after fully restoring the phone and updating the OS I am now in a “normal” usage pattern and am easily getting through an entire day with 30%-40% left at the end of the day. I’m sure that will get worse over time, as capacity diminishes on all Li-Ion batteries, but for right now I’m very happy.

Face ID

After a week, I do have to say that Face ID works really well. I don’t even think about it when I unlock the phone, which is the whole point. Many apps are already taking advantage of this. Starting a “secure” app (such as 1Password) without having to do anything is nice. Security becomes invisible. Going back to a Touch ID system feels old.

I don’t think Face ID is actually faster than Touch ID, but it feels more convenient. I expect it to get faster in future models. I read that when you configure Face ID, hold the phone farther away to make Face ID work faster. I haven’t tested it though so I can’t confirm or deny.

Notifications on the lock screen are, by default, set to be hidden until the phone is unlocked. In this state notifications appear, but without any content. For example, you will see you received an iMessage, but not see the content until you look at the phone. I thought this was pretty cool at first as a security measure but soon found it to be more annoying than helpful. In this state you lose the ability to glance at your phone to see the incoming messages which is useful when you’re in a situation where picking up your phone to look at it may be awkward. This can be disabled in Settings.

One place where Face ID does not work better than Touch ID is Apple Pay. The new system requires double tapping the side button and looking at the phone before tapping the point of sale terminal. While this certainly isn’t terrible, it isn’t as fast or convenient as the Touch ID method of placing the phone on the terminal with your thumb on the fingerprint sensor. At the grocery line it probably isn’t a big deal but if you are going to use it to get on a train every day, I can see where this would slow you down.

Animoji

The technology that makes Face ID possible also enables animated emojis or ‘Animoji’. While technologically impressive and fun to play with, I haven’t used it other than to experiement and send a message to my kids. I don’t expect to use it much.

Case

The iPhone X has the first new body design since the iPhone 6 was released in 2014. Like the iPhone 4, the X has a glass back which, also like the iPhone 4, can crack or shatter if the phone is dropped. Third party testing called iPhone X the “most breakable iPhone”. To make matters worse, repairing an iPhone X’s screen is more expensive than other iPhones ($279 vs $169 for Plus phones). AppleCare+ and/or a case may be a worthy investment.

I always put my iPhones in a case and this one is no different. I opted for the Apple Leather case. I really liked the leather case on my 7 Plus and like it on the X for the same reasons.

  • It is not bulky
  • It is grippy in the hand, but slips easily into and out of a pocket. (The Apple silicone case is the opposite.)
  • The metal buttons (volume and power) work really well. (The iPhone 6/6s leather case had bumps instead of actual buttons which are hard to press and to feel.)
  • The case removes the camera bump so the phone lies flat

I’m not sure how much it will protect the phone in a fall, but even if the back cracks it will be hidden behind the case.

Conclusions

I have been enjoying the iPhone X greatly. More than I thought I would. The smaller size feels better in hand and in a pocket. Face ID, the new screen, and new gestures make the phone feel very new but it is still an iPhone so all the apps, content, and services I used before are all still there. The adjustment period is very short.

Given all this, the iPhone X is really expensive at $999 with 64GB or $1149 with 256GB. I’m still not sure it is worth $300/$200 more than an iPhone 8/8 Plus. If you like the Plus sized phones, the iPhone 8 Plus is a great phone with all the speed of the X along with improved cameras and wireless charging. I expect there will be an iPhone X Plus next year these users could wait for.

The iPhone X is the future of family of iOS devices. I would not expect there to be another new Touch ID based iPhone or iPad from Apple.

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iPhone X First Impressions

I upgraded my iPhone 7 Plus to an iPhone X (pronounced “iPhone 10”) and wanted to share my first impressions of the new device.

For the past four years iPhones came in two sizes. The iPhone 6, 6s, 7, and 8 all have the same size, screen size and same screen resolution (number of pixels). The same can be said for the four Plus sized phones. For comparisons, I’ll refer to the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, but size and screen comparisons can be applied to any of these phones.

Device Size

The device is a little taller than an iPhone 8 and much smaller than an iPhone 8 Plus.

If you’re comfortable with the iPhone 8 sized device the iPhone X should be no problem. If you’re used to a Plus sized phone the X will feel small.

Screen

The iPhone X’s screen is the same width as the iPhone 8 but is taller. This allows you to see more of everything (e.g. longer lists and more of a web page.)

It is also a little taller than an iPhone 8 Plus’s screen, but narrower. If you liked the extra screen width on the Plus for the wider keyboard you may not be happy with the X.

The iPhone X’s screen has more pixels per inch than the iPhone 8. If you have been using an iPhone 8 sized device you will appreciate the higher resolution as text looks noticeably smoother on the X. The Plus sized phones also have a higher resolution than the iPhone 8 and I think text also looks better on those phones too. While the X has a higher resolution than the Plus, I don’t notice text being visibly better. I think it has reached the point where it doesn’t matter anymore.

Another note for Plus users, the X does not have the same landscape mode. The home screen does not rotate, and apps do not have split views. If this is something you liked, you may want to skip the X.

The iPhone X is the first iPhone with an OLED screen, which is a different technology than any other iPhone. Android phones have been using OLED for quite a while. OLED features brighter colors and darker blacks. I’m actually not a big fan of OLED displays as colors are often too saturated and whites are too blue. The OLED screen does have a different temperature than an iPhone 6 I compared it to. Whether it is better or not is subjective and I suggest looking at an actual device to judge yourself.

The iPhone X borrows “True Tone” technology from the iPad Pro. True Tone attempts to change the color temperature of the entire display based on ambient light so that the colors look consistent no matter what lighting conditions you’re in. I haven’t used it long enough to tell if this actually makes a difference or not.

The new screen size does have an impact on apps. Apps will have to be modified by developers to fully support the X. Older apps will work fine, but will have black bars on the top and bottom. It just looks awkward and doesn’t take advantage of all the screen space it can.

All Screen

One of the features of the iPhone X is that the front of the device is all screen. The “forehead” and “chin” of every preceding iPhone are gone.

Also gone is the home button.

Without an actual button, the functions the home button served are replaced by gestures. This means long time iPhone (and iPad) users will need to re-learn how to do basic tasks you’ve been doing for years. This will take a bit of time to get used to.

There is a small part on the top of the front of the device that isn’t screen where the earpiece, camera, and sensors live. This has become known as “the notch”. Instead of putting the screen under this, screen surrounds it. Information in the title bar (time, wifi, cellular signal, battery) is now split between the two “ears”. Honestly, it looks a little weird.

Face ID

With the loss of the home button, we also lost the fingerprint scanner (i.e. “Touch ID”). Apple’s new “Face ID” technology replaces it, but surprisingly changes how you think of (or not think of) security.

With Touch ID, you would have to deliberately put one of your fingers on the button to unlock the phone or sign into one of the many apps that support the technology. This actually works really well, especially on the iPhone 6s or newer which has a super fast fingerprint sensor.

Face ID works creating a 3D model of your face with a special sensor on the front of the phone. Whereas you have to deliberately invoke Touch ID by touching the sensor, Face ID just happens whenever you look at the phone. This makes security automatic. For example, to unlock the phone just hold it up and swipe from the bottom. Another example is 1Password which just opens when I start the app – I don’t have to deliberately unlock it. It feels like there isn’t a security layer when there actually is. The phone does show you when its using Face ID with a small animation, but you don’t have to do anything other than look at the phone, which you’re doing anyway while using it.

Unlike Touch ID which supported five fingers, Face ID only supports one face. This is inconvenient as you cannot give a family access to your phone, or get access to their phone, as easily as an older phone. You will have to rely on the password.

One negative use case, I think, is Apple Pay. With Touch ID you can just put the phone on the terminal with a finger on the sensor and pay without even looking. With the X, you need to double click the side button to activate Apple Pay, look at the phone, and then tap the terminal. This doesn’t sound as convenient.

An interesting use of Face ID is to protect potentially sensitive information in notifications on the lock screen. On the X, only the title of the notification is displayed until it recognizes your face and then the whole notification is displayed.

Another clever use is that the volume of the ringer will go down when the phone recognizes your face. If you’re looking at the phone, it doesn’t have to ring loudly.

Battery Life

I haven’t had the device long enough to really tell if the battery life is adequate. Supposedly it is better than the iPhone 8 but not as good as the 8 Plus. One of the best features of the Plus sized phones is the battery life so I’m curious to see if I can make it through the day comfortably.

Wireless charging

The iPhone X (as well as the 8 and 8 Plus) support wireless charging. I haven’t tried this out (I didn’t shell out for a charging pad) to see how well it works or not.

Cameras

Like the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus, the iPhone X has a dual camera system.

I haven’t the opportunity to test out he cameras to judge if the cameras are any better than earlier models.

Price

The iPhone X is the most expensive iPhone ever. It costs $999 for 64GB or storage or $1149 with 256GB. That puts it at $200 more than the iPhone 8 Plus and $300 more the iPhone 8.

Unlike earlier models where the entry model had a paltry amount of storage, 64GB is decent. If you’re planning on taking lots of pictures or video you may want to opt for the larger option.

Because the X has a different form factor than any other model it also means you will need a new case so plan on that extra cost.

Conclusion

I haven’t had the phone for very long (about 12 hours) so its hard to make hard conclusions.

It is still an iPhone, so all the apps and services you were using before continue to work.

It feels like a pretty big upgrade to the iPhone 8 sized devices but I’m not sure if it is worth $300 more

I’m not as sure that this is a big upgrade for Plus sized phones. For $200 more you get a narrower screen and less battery. You also get a significantly smaller, lighter phone which is a win. Perhaps there will be an iPhone X Plus next year?

Face ID is pretty impressive, but I want to live with it for a while before I decide if this is really the future or not.

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Mobile Update – January 19, 2016

Here’s my quick take on recent stories about smartphones, tablets, and supporting technologies that I found interesting.

The End of Two Year Contracts

Both AT&T and Sprint have joined T-Mobile and Verizon in ending requiring a two year contract when purchasing a new phone. The cellular service and phone purchase are now financed separately on all major US carriers as it should be. This is a good for consumers as they can shop for the phone and service separately. This should create more competition between carriers and sellers of phones which leads to better service and lower prices.

This is the way mobile sales works in the rest of the world. We can thank T-Mobile for starting the trend here in the US which forced the other carriers to follow suit.

See Engadget and The Verge

iPhone Dominated Holiday Sales

It seems that Apple has a pretty good holiday season. According to Flurry, almost half of new phone activations worldwide during Christmas week were iPhones. Samsung came in second with about 20%.

These new iPhone owners seem to be using their phones too as Apple reported “in the two weeks ending January 3, customers spent over $1.1 billion on apps and in-app purchases”.

Smartphone with an Optical Zoom

The one camera feature I have wanted in a smartphone but never thought I’d see has been an optical zoom. All smartphone cameras have a digital zoom, where software attempts to zoom in on the subject, but the results are almost always poor. I never expected to see an actual optical zoom in a smartphone as it requires space between the lens and sensor and there is very little of that in a modern smartphone. Asus seems to have figured out how to make this work as the Zenfone Zoom offers an actual optical 3x zoom lens.

The rest of the phone seems unremarkable, but I’m hoping that other vendors will be able to offer similar technology in future devices.

See Engadget and Android Central

Casio Smart Outdoor Watch

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Casio introduced the Smart Outdoor Watch WSD-F10 for people who enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, cycling, fishing, etc. The watch is a unique smartwatch in that it is customized for a certain user group. For outdoor use the watch is rugged (water resistant, vibration resistant, and shock resistant), has special sensors (magnetic compass, air pressure, altitude,  and accelerometer) and comes with special apps for these activities (trekking, fishing, and cycling).

Also unique to this watch is that it has two displays; a color and monochrome display. When the battery drops below a certain level, the color display is disabled. Using the monochrome display, the watch can be used to tell time for 30 days but the other smartwatch functions are disabled.

The WSD-F10 will be priced at $499 and will be available in April.

I applaud Casio for making a specialized smartwatch. The price seems steep but for people who regularly participate in these activities this seems like it could be a worthy investment. My biggest concern about it is the battery life. Casio claims about one day’s worth of charge for the smartwatch features which seems too short for someone going on a multi-day camping or biking trip.

See Wareable and The Verge

Fitbit Blaze Smartwatch

Fitbit also announced a specialty smartwatch at CES; the Fitbit Blaze. As you might expect from Fitbit, the Blaze has a focus on fitness tracking. The thought is that since people tend to take off their fitness trackers when they are at the office or out on the town which reduces the amount of data that is captured. The Blaze promises to capture more information since you can wear it all the time. Fitbit probably has better data about this than I do, but I see plenty of people wearing fitness bands along with a regular watch in the office and out at night.

Like other smartwatches, the Blaze can be outfitted in various styles and bands. The watch itself snaps into differently styled frames that can use different types of bands (rubber, leather, metal). You can easily snap the watch into a different frame when going to the gym or going out to a fancy dinner.

The focus of the product really is fitness tracking first and being a smartwatch second. While it displays notifications from your phone and can control audio, you cannot act upon any of the notifications. It also does not support third party apps.

For fitness, it contains the usual sensors including heart rate. A unique feature of the Blaze is that it claims five day battery life which allows you to sleep with it for monitoring your sleep patterns. You really can’t do that with a watch you have to recharge daily. Another sacrifice for the battery is that there is no GPS on the watch. It can work with the GPS on your phone so you will need to keep your phone with you to map your running or cycling routes.

It looks like Fitbit is trying to make a fashionable wearable. Whether you like the way the Blaze looks or not is personal opinion. From the pictures I think its a bit awkward looking but I’d have to see one in person to be sure. Like the new Pebble watches, it has a large bezel around a small display which looks cheap in my opinion. I do think that it is an interesting solution for people who otherwise are always wearing a fitness tracker. Starting at $200 with the rubber band, it is more expensive than most fitness trackers, but less expensive than many smartwatches which may make it a good compromise. The Blaze will be available in March.

iOS 9.3

Apple released the first beta of iOS 9.3 this week to developers and the public. There are many improvements but I wanted to call out the ones of most significance.

Night Shift

Night Shift changes the iPhone or iPad’s display to use softer colors at night as studies show that the blue tint of most color displays can interfere with a person’s sleep patterns. It is nice that Apple is adding this feature, but Apple is not the first to include such a feature. Amazon uses similar technology in Fire tablets. An app called F.lux does just this and has been out for various platforms for some time. It was available for iOS until Apple kicked it out of the App Store for using private APIs. It seems a bit shady that Apple would boot this app out and then integrate the same functionality into the OS without giving the authors of F.lux any credit or compensation.

Encryption in Notes

An update to the iOS Notes app includes the ability to encrypt individual notes. This can be handy to keep things like passwords and other personal information in Notes without worrying that anyone who has your phone can see them. It does make Notes more competitive to third party notes applications such Evernote and Microsoft OneNote which already have this feature. Keeping customers using Notes helps lock those customers into Apple’s ecosystem. It would be harder to switch to Android or Windows if all of your notes were trapped in iOS or OS X.

Education Updates for iPad

It is no secret that Google’s Chromebook devices have become dominant in classrooms across the country at the expense of the iPad. Apple appears to be attempting to regain some of that lost ground with iOS 9.3.

“Shared iPad” lets multiple students keep share a single device. This is a long requested feature that obviously benefits a classroom that doesn’t have an iPad for each student. I am hoping this feature finds its way into iOS for all users as it would be nice for families to be able to share a device too.

“Classroom” is an app for teachers to control their students iPads including:

  • Viewing a student’s screen remotely
  • Launching an app, web page, or eBook on students’ iPads
  • Share any student’s screen to a projector via AirPlay

“Apple School Manager” provides centralized management of iPads for the school’s IT department.

All of these sound like good ideas for deploying large numbers of iPads an academic environment and I’m sure is a direct response to feedback from schools. Even with these new features Apple still has these problems in competing with Chromebooks:

  • Chromebooks are much less expensive than iPads
  • Replacing a broken or lost Chromebook is as simple as logging in with a new device since all programs and data are stored in the cloud
  • Chromebooks have keyboards which give them the perception of being “real computers” to students instead of toys. Students treat them differently.

See Apple

 

That’s it for now! I’ll be back when there is more to share.

 

 

 

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A Week with an Apple Watch

I must have been a good boy this year as I received an Apple Watch as a Christmas present from my most awesome wife. I’ve been using it for about a week now and wanted to share my first impressions.

The Hardware

I have a 42mm Apple Watch (the larger version) and it is smaller than it looks in pictures. It does not feel big or overly heavy on my wrist. The watch is certainly not thin but doesn’t feel overly thick either. The Apple Watch is smaller than the Martian Notifier that I have been wearing for the last year.

Apple-Martian-Watches

I think it also looks better in person than it does in pictures. Everyone may not like a rectangular face, but it does leave room for “complications” (such as the temperature in the picture above) along with the circular face.

The Band

One feature of the Apple Watch is the ability to easily change bands. I think that’s a great idea and don’t know why other watches do not do something like this. Apple offers several differerent styles of bands and there are many third party ones also available (often for much less cost).

My watch came with a black “sport band” which is a “fluoroelastomer” (i.e. rubber) band. It doesn’t have a traditional buckle and putting it on takes a bit of practice. The best part of this design is that the end tucks in underneath the band so there is nothing sticking out to get caught on a sleeve or pocket. The band on the Martian watch is a really thick rubber band I found it often getting in the way.

Using the Watch

The primary mission of any watch is to tell time. Like all smart watches, the Apple Watch offers several watch faces. There are 13 to choose from and each one can be customized to your liking. It is pretty easy to switch from one to another so I’ve made a couple to with different styles that show different pieces of information (i.e. “complications”) for different purposes. It is a shame that Apple does not allow for third party watch faces. This seems to be a thriving market for Android Wear with lots of great looking faces available.

I’m left handed and wear my watch on my right hand. Since the display is a screen it can be flipped over in software to be configured so that the crown is on the left. I then had to switch the sides of the band, but that is really easy to do. A win for lefties!

To conserve power the display turns itself off when it thinks you aren’t looking at it. When you raise your wrist to view it or tap the screen the display turns on. It recognizes the raising your wrist gesture pretty well, but there are times when getting the display to turn on requires a wrist shake. I would like it to be less conservative about when it decides to turn on the display. I realize power is an issue, but I’d like to be able to configure how sensitive it is. There is a slight delay from when you raise your wrist until the display comes on which I find annoying. It is short but just long enough to make you wonder if it is working. They need to tighten that up.

I was concerned about battery life but have found it to be surprisingly good. I charge it each night so I start out at 100% in the morning and I’m yet to get under 30% by the end of the day. I assume battery life will get worse over time (as all rechargable batteries degrade) and third party apps could also affect the battery negatively, but as of right now I’m not at all worried about making it through the day. I was told to be careful of the chronometer watch face as it is easy to accidentally start the stopwatch which can eat up the battery quickly if left to run for hours.

Like my Martian Notifier, the Apple Watch can display notifications from the iPhone. I really like seeing the alert on my wrist so I could decide if I needed to pull out my phone to act upon it. With the Apple Watch in addition to seeing the notification you can also act upon it from the watch. This is really handy for simple things like marking a reminder as complete or replying to an iMessage or email with a canned response. While it is possible to do some more complicated things, like dictate a message using Siri, I find using the phone to be more convenient in those cases.

Speaking of Siri, it can be activated on the watch by saying “Hey Siri”. It can be used to launch watch function such as starting timers or setting alarms. This is easier then fumbling through the watch interface. It can also be used to dictate a quick note which can be handy when you want to get an idea down quickly.

Apps

I have many apps on my iPhone that have a Watch app with them. After playing with some of them I have decided that I really don’t have a need for any of these apps on my watch. Doing anything remotely complicated is just too hard to do on the watch’s tiny display.

Conclusions

So far I am really enjoying the watch. I think it is useful and looks nice. Getting notifications on my wrist is something I really liked with my last watch and the ability to act upon them with this one is a big bonus. My biggest annoyance is that the display doesn’t always turn on when I want. I hope that can be fixed in a future software release.

The big criticism I have heard of the Apple Watch in general is that there is no need to buy one. I would agree that I don’t need an Apple Watch or any other smartwatch for that matter. That isn’t the point of the device. It is a luxury item that is nice to own.

 

 

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The Week in Mobile – December 19, 2015

Here’s my quick take on this week’s stories about smartphones, tablets, and supporting technologies that I found interesting.

5G Service Coming to Verizon in 2017

Now that everyone is using 4G LTE cellular service, Verizon is starting to talk about its upcoming fifth generation (5G) cellular network which it plans to start rolling out in 2017. 5G promises speeds up to 1 Gbps, which is 10 times faster than most wired broadband services.

In explaining why they need to build a faster network Verizon shared some interesting usage statistics:

  • On average, a wireless subscriber uses 2.4 GB of data per month, but by 2020 that is expected to jump to 14 GB per month
  • 70% of Verizon’s network traffic comes from video streaming
  • Verizon’s network traffic has been growing by 75% yearly
  • Traffic from video is expected to grow 55% yearly over the next five years.

Video is taking a huge piece of wireless traffic and is expected to continue to do so. Speeding up the networks will certainly help but that will take years and cost billions to roll out nationwide. Netflix’s effort to reduce the size of their data streams should help reduce network congestion and I expect (and hope!) other content services (e.g. HBO, Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, YouTube) will follow their lead.

In 2007 the original iPhone used the 2G EDGE network which offered speeds up to 135 Kbps. In 2017 we can expect 1 Gbps service which is 7,400 times faster. It is mind boggling how far the technology has progressed in 10 years!

Link: Business Insider

Microsoft Releases an App Store – on Android

Microsoft released an “App Store” for Android on Google Play this week. The app lets Android users download Microsoft’s Office apps.

Even though Microsoft is putting all of its weight behind Windows 10, it’s hard to deny that Windows is not catching on for phones. It is difficult to think of Microsoft building a non-Windows phone but having a presence in mobile is obviously important to the company. Microsoft has been doing a lot of work on Android and this could be a piece of a long term strategy to create their own Android based phones similarly to what Amazon has done. The pieces they have now include:

  • An investment in Cyanogen, an Android based OS
  • Cortana for Android, with deep support in Cyanogen
  • Office for Android (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Skype)
  • “Arrow” home screen launcher
  • Lock screen apps from their “garage” team

Since Microsoft now knows how to manufacture devices it wouldn’t be difficult for them to release a new phone running Cyanogen bundled with Microsoft’s apps targeted at business users.

The upsides for Microsoft would be:

  • Having thousands of popular apps available instantly
  • Keeping users subscribing to Office 365 and OneDrive.
  • Increased Bing usage

Links: Business Insider, Thurrott.com

Japanese University Bans Watches from Exams

In an effort to prevent cheating, Kyoto University is banning all watches from exam rooms. I found this amusing at first, but as wearables become more mainstream this kind of thing will become more of a problem.

Today there are bluetooth enabled hearing aids that can be used to feed audio information to someone. Google Glass, which could always be recording video, raised issues about wearables and privacy.

This is another instance of society having to figure out how to adapt to a new technology. In the coming years, what other connected devices will we have on our person that will cause these types of issues?

Link: The Verge

Samsung to Add 3D touch to Galaxy S7

Samsung is reportedly working to add touch sensitivity, similar to the iPhone 6s’s 3D touch, to the Galaxy S7 for release next spring. I suppose that Samsung adding the latest iPhone feature to their next Galaxy S phone should not be surprising. My question is how well it will be supported by third party developers? Without broad support this feature will go largely unused. Samsung has to incent developers to use their proprietary API and that may be a hard sell since only the GS7 will support this feature. Third party support for the S-Pen in Samsung’s Note series, another Samsung proprietary technology, has not been great so far.

Links: WSJ, The Verge

Benedict Evans’ 16 Topics on Mobile

If you’re interested in the mobile industry you should be reading Benedict Evan’s blog. His most recent post is a summary of what he considers the 16 important topics about mobile today with links to his supporting posts. A bit long but worth the time.

 

That’s all for now. See you next week!

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The Week in Mobile – December 12, 2015

Here’s my quick take on this week’s stories about smartphones, tablets, and supporting technologies that I found interesting.

Apple Battery Case

Apple introduced a new battery case for the iPhone 6/6s priced at $99.

I had a few thoughts about this:

  • Apple is (finally!) acknowledging that battery life on the iPhone 6 and 6s is not good enough.
  • The battery case market must be sufficiently big enough that Apple wants a share.
  • I wonder if the next iPhone will have a port on the back for extended batteries so that the lightning port can remain open?

Apple is getting a lot of criticism about the case for design, usability, performance, and price. Tim Cook himself even had to defend the product.

I suppose it is a bit goofy looking with the big hump in the back, but none of these things look that great. I can’t defend the charging light being inside the case where you can’t see it. Who thought that was a good idea? It also doesn’t hold as much charge as the competition, yet costs more. That is unfortunate but probably won’t hurt sales too much (especially if they stop carrying competing products in the Apple store).

The one thing I really do like about it compared to similar products is that it uses a lightning connector whereas most others use microUSB. For Apple fans who have invested in a lot of lightning cables this is a big plus.

Links: Apple, BGR

Dropbox kills Mailbox

In 2013 Dropbox bought beloved email app Mailbox for a mind blowing $100M with promises building better collaboration tools. In the two years since its purchase Dropbox has done little with Mailbox and is now formally shutting it down.

I used to use Mailbox on my iPhone and liked it a lot. Mailbox brought several innovations to email apps that are now commonplace such scheduling messages and swiping to perform quick actions. Now that Microsoft and Google are giving away email apps with similar capabilities, I would imagine it would be hard to compete in this space without re-inventing email, such as Slack did. And how does this help Dropbox’s business?

While it is sad to see a good app die, I hope that this is a sign that Dropbox is focusing on its core business. At $100M, it does seem like an expensive lesson though.

Links: Mailbox, The Verge

There’s Life in Microsoft’s Surface Business

A report was published this week by 1010data claiming that in October revenue from online sales of Microsoft’s Surface tablets was higher than that from Apple’s iPad. While this does not say that Microsoft is selling more Surfaces than Apple is selling iPads, it does indicate that Microsoft is drawing substantial revenue from its Surface business. This also means that there is significant demand for hybrid PC tablets.

Links: Business Insider

Apple Event coming in March

Although Apple did not announce it, news started spreading this weeek that there will be an Apple event in March to introduce the Apple Watch 2 and a new iPhone with a four inch screen.

A new Apple Watch would explain the big drop in price of Apple Watches at retailers this month. Best Buy is discounting the Apple Watch Sport by $100. Moving out the old inventory for the new?

There has been speculation about a iPhone 6 class phone with a 4″ screen to take the low end of the product line for a long time but I have not seen any leaks of parts from the supply chain that usually precede a new product release so I’m not too sure about this one.

Links: 9to5Mac

Firefox OS is Shut Down

Mozilla has shut down development of the Firefox OS for smartphones. The first version of the OS was released in 2013 to generally poor reviews. It was intended to run in low end phones for emerging markets but cheap Android phones seem to have eliminated the need for this product. Another case of too little too late.

Links: TechCrunch

Microsoft brings Cortana to iOS and Android

Microsoft released iOS and Android apps for its digital assistant, Cortana, this week. Cortana, which is built into Windows 10 devices, is similar to Apple’s Siri and Google Now in that it performs tasks for you and proactively gathers information it thinks you will need. The apps do not have the tight integration with the iOS and Android like it does in Windows, although future versions of Android branch Cyanogen will have Cortana support in the OS.

The release of these apps is another example of Microsoft’s shift to being a service provider from a platform vendor. Satya Nadella’s Microsoft wants you using its services regardless of the platform you choose.

Link: Microsoft, Engadget

Google’s Pixel C Tablet

Google started shipping its high end “Pixel C” Android tablet. Like the Microsoft Surface an optional keyboard is available which turns the tablet into a laptop. Unlike the Surface, the keyboard supports the tablet so you can actually use it on your lap.

Reviews of the hardware have been generally quite positive lauding build quality and performance, although attaching the tablet to the keyboard seems somewhat awkward. The cost is also high ($499 for the tablet and $149 for the keyboard) for an Android tablet.

The big criticism is with the software as Android doesn’t seem ready for a laptop. Android does not support displaying multiple apps at the same time as Windows and iOS9 can. I’m sure that will be coming in a future version of Android, but it isn’t here today and is expected for a device of this cost. Also, Android’s tablet ecosystem is still not rich enough. Microsoft Office is on Android but there are not a lot of other tablet specific apps. The Engadget review says “Android just isn’t cut out for productivity as much as Chrome OS or Windows yet.” I’m surprised that Google isn’t working with more software publishers to produce more Android productivity tablet apps.

Links: Google, The Verge, Ars Technica

That’s it for now! See you next week.

 

 

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Martian Notifier Smartwatch Review

For the holdiays this year I received a Martian Notifier smartwatch as a gift. I’ll admit that I never heard of this device before, and I keep track of these things. At first glance I didn’t think this would be something I’d like but decided to try it out and give it a chance.

Martian Notifier Smartwatch

What is it?

The Martian Notifier is a watch that can receive and display notifications from your iPhone or Android phone. Unlike other smartwatches, this one actually looks like a watch. It has an analog display (i.e. hands) and a small OLED display on the face. It comes in three different colors (black, white, and red) with silicone “quick change” bands available in a variety of colors.

When a notification comes in, the text scrolls across the OLED display and the watch vibrates. You cannot act on these notifications other than to tell the watch to stop displaying it by tapping the face.

Unlike Android Wear watches or the Apple Watch, the Notifier does not have a color display nor can it run apps. As its name suggests, the device’s job is to provide notifications.

The watch communicates with a phone via Bluetooth 4.0 (aka Bluetooth Low Energy). There is an app for your phone to pair the devices and customize the behavior of the phone. From the app you can choose which apps will send notifications, set silent alarms, and choose what to display when the action button is pressed. The vibration pattern can also be selected on a per-app basis.

Living with it

First of all, I like way the watch looks and feels good on my wrist. It won’t be mistaken for a Rolex, but it doesn’t look geeky like most other smartwatches. The watch isn’t too bulky or heavy so it can be worn comfortably. It is styled as a man’s watch and I suspect that many women would feel it is too big for them. I have the black model and I can easily read the face which is the most important feature of any watch. I do wish it had a second hand though.

To see the day and date you have press the button and wait for the date to cycle by, not unlike a 1970’s era digital watch. Pressing the button displays the battery, date, and optionally the time and weather. For some reason after couple of times the weather stops being shown, which I believe is a bug. I also wish I could change the order of the display to put the date first in the order.

After charging the watch, setting it up was pretty straightforward. Setting the time is done with the crown as with any other watch. After installing the app on my iPhone it was pretty easy to pair the watch with the phone and set the options. Updating the firmware was more of a hassle than it should have been. I couldn’t get the Windows updater to work at all. The Mac version is unsigned, which is makes it a hassle to run it, and doesn’t work on OS X Yosemite.

I quickly noticed that when wearing the watch I am much more aware of my notifications. Even though my iPhone is in my pocket I am feeling a buzz on my wrist when I don’t feel my phone vibrate. So I am actually being notified more now than I was before. I initially had notifications enabled for all apps but decided to start turning off the ones that weren’t worth bothering me for. Although you can set different vibration patterns for different apps, in practice I can’t say I noticed the difference enough to know which app was sending the message.

When a notification comes in, a blue LED flashes on the face and the display scrolls the text in white letters on a black background. The text is small and is hard for me to without putting on my glasses, by which time the notification has already gone by but I suspect that will be true of just about smartwatch on the market. A tap the watch’s face will re-display the last notification, but at that point I might as well pull out my phone. The display is also recessed a bit so if you’re looking at the watch at an angle the bottom of the text may be cut off.

Other than notifications, the watch has some other useful features that I did not expect. It has a “leash” mode so that if you get out of range of your phone the watch will buzz you. This can help prevent leaving your phone behind and losing it. It also has a “find phone” command that will play a tone on your phone to help you find it when it is buried in the sofa cushions. The top button of the watch can be used to launch a voice command (Siri on iOS and Google Now on Android) or be the shutter for your phone’s camera. Truthfully, I don’t find either command that useful and wish there were other options like toggling Play/Pause.

Battery life has been really great so far. Martian’s documentation says you should only need to recharge it every five days or so and that sounds about right. Not having to power a color display all the time is a big battery saver. You can check the battery level on the watch itself (by pressing the lower button) or through the app. You can also turn off the watch at night to save power. Charging the watch is done through a microUSB port on the side of the watch. The microUSB connector is longer than most so you have to use the provided cable. Prying out the little cover is difficult and I’m afraid I’m going to break it off. Because of this I suspect the watch is not waterproof so I won’t be wearing it to the beach or swimming. While charging an LED on the face glows red until fully charged when it turns green.

Conclusions

I like this watch more than I thought I would. I didn’t think a smartwatch without a full screen would be worth it, but I found the Notifier is more useful than I expected and performs its primary mission (telling time) well. It doesn’t have all the features that a Pebble, Android Wear, or Apple Watch have but that seems okay to me. Getting my notifications, having an easy to read clock face, and having long battery life are key features and the Notifier handles them well.

See www.martianwatches.com/notifier

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